I’m in the grocery store a few weeks ago with my 89-year-old Chinese neighbor, Chung Wen (who said I could use his name). His wife of more than 60 years died in a car accident in January; I have befriended him. At first he cried a lot and I would mostly hug him and try to comfort him. Now he likes to go grocery shopping and come along on errands with me. I try to teach him how to say things in English, and we drink tea together nearly every morning.
So we’re looking at different seltzers because I’m trying to give up soda and, little by little, all processed foods. I want to take them out of Jonah’s diet altogether too, but that’s a whole different story.
I’m trying to decide on the flavor I want when this random dude comes up to me, points to my shirt, and says “who’s that?”
So I tell the guy I don’t know who the woman is – but that it is a Guster shirt, and they are my favorite band.
Without further conversation or introduction, the guy announces Guster’s next concert date, co-bands, venue, city & state. I also know Guster’s next concert date, co-bands, venue, city & state, so of course I am intrigued. Have I found another *Gusterrhoid? I ask him if he likes the band Guster too, because let’s face it, they’re not a household name like Beyonce or the Rolling Stones - and he replies with undisguised lack of interest: “they’re okay,” he tells me, immediately extracting one of Guster’s co-bands, the Barenaked Ladies, from this equation, and announcing their next concert date, opening band, venue, city & state.
I am more than slightly taken aback.
But I also immediately recognize that this man has autism – and more so - that I have most probably stumbled, in fact, upon a savant. Chung Wen is watching all this with patience and a small smile of confusion.
Unfortunately, I don’t get the chance to engage the man any further; he needs to finish his shopping, he tells me abruptly, cutting himself off before listing a beautiful geometric chain of bands, their next concert’s dates, opening bands, venues, cities, & states. We say goodbye to each other, and Chung Wen asks me if the man wanted to date me or see me again. Some things are hard to explain to Chung Wen, so I just grin and say “no.”
I seem to run into adults with autism a lot. I am instantly protective of them, interested in them – I have a reverse sort of prejudice toward them, you might say.
When we get home Chung Wen insists on helping me unload all the groceries. Though he is 89 he is strong as a bull and sweet as pie. I used to see him walking down the street with his wife, but I never introduced myself to him until after she died. Almost every time I see him, he tells me before he met me he was drowning, and I have pulled him out of the ocean. Out of the ocean. I am humbled by his persistent insistence; I look into his eyes and see he means it from his heart. He tells me his wife will help my son. Whether or not this is possible is secondary to the fact that he believes it to be so, and therefore it is a great gift.
I think of how we’ve started to listen to one another’s music – I’ve played Guster’s songs in the car, of course, including ”On the Ocean” and “Jonah,” and he sings along with made-up syllables. I’ve am blessed to know Chung Wen, for he is a good friend, way more grateful to me than is deserved.
Jonah’s first day of school was this week, and he got through it well enough — at least well enough so Andy did not get a call from C, the lady who notifies one of us when there has been a “behavior,” to tell us of its extent and cause, if they can identify one, and the outcome. On the second day, however, when his caregiver met Jonah to walk him back to the residence, Boo went after him, trying to attack. The quick-thinking caregiver began to run toward the house, Jonah chasing him down and wearing himself out in the process, ultimately fizzling his aggression-yelling down to a disgruntled hum. I would consider this sprint/escape method as a possible permanent solution to Jonah’s aggressions, but for the fact that Boo can outrun me and probably half the staff on campus as well.
I continue to feel better, though excruciatingly slowly, day after day. Today was my first day out of the house, when I drove down to visit Boo with my mom. I was weak but it was a beautiful day and I held close an optimism and hope that Jonah would be good. I didn’t get to see him last week but neither, really, did my mom, who drove down by herself only to have Jonah flip out on campus before they could even drive to Andy’s apartment. The visit was over before it began. Andy’s glasses were mangled in the melee and he had to tape them up and drive to a nearby city to get them repaired. My mom left him the food she’d brought, and I guess Andy was able to visit Boo for a while later in the day.
Today was only slightly more successful. We got him off campus, but barely. Before we drove out of the gates Jonah grabbed a huge handful of my hair, right on top of my head, even though I tried to use the big grey pillow as shield against his sudden anger. Andy quickly pulled over and disengaged Jonah, but only after lots of hair was pulled and mangled. Andy asked if I wanted to just bring him back to his residence but I said no, let’s try — and we did try, and for a while Boo was okay. He gave me two sweet little kisses and we had some fun listening to the radio on the rest of the ride to the apartment, though my mom insisted she get in the backseat this time.
The backseat’s like the lion cage. Who dareth enter? Grandma!
My mother made it all the way to the apartment without incident. Luckily Andy’s apartment is close by and Jonah enjoyed his turkey sandwich and chips and bath, all while watching Train on TV. The trip to the transfer station, however, was fraught with much distress, Andy having to pull over three or so times to disentangle Jonah from his Houdini-like attempt to free himself from the seat harness. Jonah had his feet pushed into the front, kicking, all stretched out and crying in a pissed-off kind of way, one moment weeping sadly and the next ready to kick ass. We calmed Boo down, put his selection of techno music back on, and drove him just one more mile or so against his
instruction demand: That way! THAT way! until we got back to Andy’s street.
And I forgot my camera today. It’s just as well.
My mom and I did not stay much longer after that. Jonah remained in the back seat, waiting for more car ride, sucking his thumb with something like urgency as I kissed my hand and held it to the car window. He touched his hand to the window too. Andy and me and my mom all said our goodbyes, and off they went. I have no idea how Jonah did after that, but at least I got to visit for a short while and interact with Boo in between meltdowns. I hope he was good for Andy the rest of the day, though I sure wouldn’t bet on it. When I got home I took pain medication and collapsed into a long nap.
As I’ve repeated ad nauseum, trying to figure out what is upsetting Jonah is too often akin to tackling some equation in an astrophysics class (says the astrophysicist). His routine has of course been disrupted from school beginning, so there’s that to consider. Poor Boo. I want him to have fun and enjoy our visits.
I feel like the tide should be turning again, that he will be cycling into another period of calm and happy. I hope so. I sure wish we could figure out the times of the tide.
I sure wish someone could lift him out of the ocean.
*Guster’s loving nickname for their fans
Oh, and by the way – we’re not going back to that eye doctor again (the one Jonah has attacked the last two times we tried to go) and nobody is upset about it – not Andy, not me, and most certainly not Boo. His next appointment is with the retina doc we all like, and perhaps she can recommend a different glaucoma doc for him. This next appointment is on Friday the 13th.
Never a dull day.
Jonah’d be a top candidate for a reality show, if I were to take up the notion to exploit our situation. Here Comes Jonah Boo Boo?